Familiar, but respectful, foes Northeastern, Central York to meet for league boys' title

Elijah Armold
  • Northeastern is the defending champion of the York-Adams League tournament.
  • Central York is making its fifth straight appearance in the title game, last winning in 2014.
  • It will be the third meeting of the two teams, with Northeastern sweeping the regular-season games.

It’s said that familiarity breeds contempt.

In the case of this season’s York-Adams League boys’ basketball championship game, however, it’s more appropriate to say familiarity breeds respect.

Thursday’s title tilt at York College will see Division I champion Northeastern taking on D-I runner-up Central York at 7 p.m.

Northeastern swept the season series, but not without a little drama. After taking their first match-up, 59-42, on Dec. 12, the Bobcats needed some late heroics to claim the second meeting. That game, on Jan. 23 at Central York, required a 3-pointer from Nate Wilson with 3.1 seconds left to collect a 67-64 victory.

Pedigrees: While the game is a match-up of two teams who know each other well, it’s also a contest between two teams with a fair amount of similarities, starting with recent pedigree.

The Bobcats (22-2) are the defending tournament champions, having brought home the program’s first league title last year with a 62-51 win over Central. The Panthers (16-7) are in the championship game for the fifth straight season, but will look for their first league crown since that run began back in 2014.

“It says a lot for these guys,” Panthers head coach Kevin Schieler said of his current roster. “Last year’s group, they did it all four years. These guys didn’t get to experience all that. So, to have these guys keep that tradition going, that’s great for them and I’m really excited for them.”

Scoring: Both teams can score. The Bobcats represent the league’s top scoring offense, led by league-leading scorer Antonio Rizzuto and the high-flying Fred Mulbah. It’s often one of the two, sometimes both, who will spell doom for the opposition.

Fred Mulbah is one of the driving forces behind the Northeastern boys' basketball team on both ends of the floor. John A. Pavoncello photo

The Panthers also sport one of the league’s best scoring groups, but with a slight difference. Their production is a little more spread out, with any of the starting five capable of leading the team in scoring on a given night.

That group includes seniors Garrett Markey and Landyn Ray, along with juniors Cade Pribula, Saa’hir Cornelius and Braden Richard.

The Bobcats have solid secondary scoring of their own with sophomore Wilson and seniors D.J. Hamilton and Nate Eyster.

Defense: Both teams, however, tend to pride themselves more on their defensive efforts. They also have a mutual admiration for what the other can do on that end.

The Panthers are well aware of the defensive task ahead of them in trying to slow down Rizzuto and Mulbah. To their credit, however, they are by no means taking that task lightly, despite a tight contest last time out.

Schieler said that when the Bobcats are playing the way they’re capable of, they’re the top team in the county. The coach knows to earn a victory Thursday, his Panthers will have to take their defensive effort up a notch.

Central York's Landyn Ray is hoping the Panthers can bring home their first York-Adams title since 2014. Dawn J. Sagert photo

“A better defensive performance than the first two games (of the tournament),” Schieler said of what it will take to win on Thursday.

Ray noted that Central will need a near-flawless effort to defeat the Bobcats.

“It’s a good Northeastern team,” Ray said. “We have to execute, do every little thing right, and we’ll see what happens.”

Northeastern head coach Jon Eyster noted his squad will need a solid shooting performance to make things easier. Otherwise, they’ll have to rely even more on defensive rebounding and getting out in transition.

“It’s hard to beat a good team any times,” Eyster said of the prospect of collecting three wins vs. Central. “They’re good, they’re really smart, they’re playing really well right now. Pribula’s doing a lot more for them. They’re good, it won’t be easy. It’ll be fun, the kids all know each other very well.”

Mulbah suggested that leaning on that transition game might be the way to go. It wouldn’t give the Panthers time to set up their defense.

“They’re very good defensively, they switch on all screens and they’re good at communicating on defense,” Mulbah said. “Their defense is very hard to get through. We’re definitely going to have to rebound — rebounding and getting out (in transition). Then we won’t have to worry about said defense.”

Motivation: While the main motivation, winning a league title, is the same, the two teams differ a little in other motivation.

For the Panthers, it’s erasing years of title-game heartbreak.

“I really think that’s one thing driving these guys right now. We had a slump in the middle of January and we spelled some things out that could or could not happen,” Schieler said. “And I think that’s why we turned things around, because this is a really competitive group of guys.”

For the Bobcats, it’s living up to the billing of being the league’s top team.

“It’s fun,” Mulbah said of playing with a target on their backs. “Teams try to get after us and we love that stuff, we try to give it right back. We get more excited. It’s a good feeling to know that you’re the top dog and everybody is after you.”

Reach Elijah Armold at earmold@yorkdispatch.com.